A Re-reading of Sattriya Dance forms of the Bardowa Sattra Circle: An Analytical Study of the Sutradhari Nac

Ph.D. Research Scholar,

Department of Performing Arts,

Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva University, Assam

Email: nijaradeka76@gmail.com


The sattriya dance of Assam was created by the medieval Vaishnavite religious preacher Sri Manta Sankardeva and his disciple Sri Sri Madhava Deva within the fold of ankiya naat. He organized a show of his first drama ‘Cihna-Yatra’ in his birthday place Bardowa. However, in the present sattriya dance tradition, due to many reasons, the dances of the Kamalabari sattra circle have become very popular while the dances of the Bardowa sattra[1] circle have become obsolete. This paper attempts to analyze the sutradhari nac[2] of the Bardowa sattra circle. It is also tried to scientifically render notations of the rhythms of this dance number.

Keywords: Sattra, Sattradhikar, Bardowa, Sutradhari nac, Ankiya nat, Bhaona, Notations.

How to cite this paper:

Deka, Nijara. 2024. “A Re-reading of Sattriya Dance forms of the Bardowa Sattra Circle: An Analytical Study of the Sutradhari Nac.” Sangeet Galaxy 13(1): 154-161. www.sangeetgalaxy.co.in.

  1. Introduction:

The sattriya dance form evolved in the hands of the medieval vaishnavite saint Sri Manta Sankardeva and his chief apostle Sri Sri Madhava Deva for the propagation of Bhakti faith- which was the crux of the Ek Saron Naam Dharma. It was created within the fold of Ankiya Nat[3]– a unique creation of the Saint to spread New Vaishnavism in Assam. Though Srimanta Sankardeva evolved this dance style in a dance-drama form, Sri Madhava Deva and some other disciples of the Saint introduced a series of dance numbers other than dramatic (J. Mahanta 75). After the death of Srimanta Sankardeva, the Vaishnavite community of Assam was divided into four different samhati (schism) – Purush Samhati, Nika Samhati, Brahmo Samhati and Kala samhati (K. D. Goswami 1). Accordingly, the sattra institutions also got classified. Though there have been no fundamental differences between these four categories of sattras regarding the Ek Saron Naam Dharma’s main ethos, some differences in rituals, music and dances have been seen. Generally, the mnemonics knit of dance numbers differ from samhatito samhati.

For centuries together, this dance form was preserved, practiced and propagated by the monks of the sattras. Over time, the monks of the sattras popularized this dance form and eventually came out from the sattras. Finally, in the year 2000, it got recognition as the classical dance of Assam.

  1. Statement of the Problem:

Bardowa, the birth place of the Saint Srimanta Sankardeva, first witnessed the dramatic show ‘Cihna-Yatra’- the first play of Srimanta Sankardeva. The Guru-carita[4] of Ramacarana, Guru-carit-katha, as well as Bardowa-guru-carita, contains detailed accounts of Sankardeva’s performance of his first dramatic show (J. Mahanta 20). These sources mentioned that Sankardeva manufactured ‘khol’ (a musical instrument), face mask, ‘Aria-Mohota[5] etc. in Bardowa to use it in ‘Cihna-Yatra’. It is also found that he prepared a group of artists like Sul Dhora Lakhan, Bolai Gayan, Bhima Bayan, etc. to sing songs and play music in ‘Cihna-Yatra’ (K. D. Goswami 110).

All these indicate that a strong tradition of dance, drama and music prevailed in Bardowa during the days of Srimanta Sankardeva. However, after Sankardeva left Bardowa, it not only lost much of its glory but some invaluable dance and music numbers have also gone lost. According to Dr. Keshabananda Dev Goswami, one reason has been that the monks of the Bardowa Sattra are married and have family life due to which they couldn’t devote much time in practice and propagation of dance, songs and music, etc. Thus, chiefly due to the lack of practice the ‘Nadu Bhongi’, ‘Jumura nac’, ‘Behar nac’, ‘Cali nac’ etc. of the Bardowa sattra along with the mnemonics of the ‘Ramdani’ part had gone lost (K. D. Goswami 28).

However, another important point here is that the first attempt at rendering into the notation of all the rhythms that sattra uses in dances and dramas was made by Keshav Changkakati- as he was appointed by the Bargit Research Committee of the Assam Sangeet Natak Akademi to do this job (Neog v,vi) . This investigation ultimately led to the publication of the “Sattriya Dances of Assam and their Rhythms” (Sattriya Nritya Aru Sattriya Nrityar Tal)- which contains scientific notations of all the rhythms used in dances and dramas of the Kamalabari Sattra. However, no such attempt was made to scientifically render notations of talas used in music and dances of the Bardowa sattra. The absence of such holistic attempt perhaps may also be responsible for the decay of many dance numbers of the Bardowa sattra. Whatever may be the reason, in the present time the music, dance, songs, etc. of the Kamalabari sattra circle has become widely prevalent in comparison to songs, music, dance etc. of the Bardowa sattra circle. At present the sutradhari nac of the Kamalabari sattra circle has become very popular among dance lovers (Mahanta 117).

It is to be mentioned here that Dr. Jagannath Mahanta in his work “The Sattriya Dance of Assam” used the word ‘sattra circle’ to refer to different vogues of a particular dance number- which varies from sattra to sattra.

  1. Objectives of the Study:

The present study attempts to understand and to analyse the Sutradhari nac of the Bardowa sattra circle which is still practiced in middle Assam region in Ankiya Bhaonaswithout scientific notations. Attempts have been made to scientifically render notations of all the rhythms used in the above-mentioned dance number.

  1. Significance of the Study:

Thesignificance of the study lies in the fact that it has been the maiden study that seeks to scientifically render notations of all the rhythms which are used in the Sutradhari nac of the Bardowa sattra circle. The study will benefit the learners to practice and perform this vogue of the sutradhari nac as a solo dance number outside Ankiya Naat.

1.5 Scope of the Study:

The scope of the present study has been confined to the sutradhari nac in general and the sutradhari nac in the Bardowa sattra circle in particular.

1.6 Methodology and data collection:

Historical, descriptive as well as analytical methods were used in this study. Extensive field surveys were conducted to find out the mnemonics of the dance number and to know about the style of presentation of the sutradhari nac of the Bardowa sattrax circle. Both primary and secondary data were collected for the study. Primary data were collected from the Sattradhikar[6]s of the Norua and Sologuri Sattra of Bordawa, the bayana[7]s as well as renowned old artists of the Bardowa area with an unstructured interview schedule. Participatory methods were also used to get firsthand knowledge about the rhythms of the dance number.

1.7 Review of early works:

Some scholarly works have already taken place on various aspects of the Bardowa sattra. Some important works are as under-

Keshabananda Dev Goswami in his Sattra Sanskritir Ruprekha discussed about the unique style of dance, drama, and songs of the Bardowa sattra. The author specifically mentioned that the ‘Mati-akhara’ is known as ‘natuanach’ in Bardowa– which is performed in either ‘ektal’ or in ‘chutatal’. However, the author discussed about the currently available dances only and mentioned that some dances of the Bardowa sattra have gone lost.

Jagannath Mahanta in his work Sattriya Nrittya Gita Badyar Hatputhi tried to present the journey of sattriya dance from its inception to the complexities that it faces in present situation. This is a very comprehensive work- which deals right from Mati-Akharas (Physical exercises) to Rasa, Raga, Tala, Hasta, Pada, Angika etc. of Sattriya dance. The work also contains a list of various dances and bajonas (mnemonics) practiced in various sattras of Assam. However, the work gave simply an outline of the unique style of dance, music and instruments of the Bordowa sattra and didn’t delve deep.

Narayan Chandra Goswami’s Sattriya Sanskritir Swarnarekha has been a comprehensive work on every aspect of the age-old traditions followed by the Sattra institutions of Assam. This work not only contains discussions on various dance pieces like- Jhumura, Nadubhongi, Cali Nac, Sutradhari Nac, Sri Krishnar Nac etc. but also includes details discussion on dress materials as well as presentation style of above-mentioned various dance pieces. However, the work includes no specific discussions on dance tradition of Borduwa sattra.

Maheswar Neog and Keshav Changkakoti attempted to present the entire sattriya culture of Assam in their work Sattriya Nritya Aru Sattriya Nrityar Tal. The work not only throws light in to the origin and development of sattriya dance tradition, but also contains scientific notations of music and dances of the Kamalabari Sattra and Auniati Sattra of Majuli.

Jagannath Mahanta in his work The Sattriya Dance of Assam: An Analytical and Critical Study have narrated origin, growth and implications of the Neo-Vaisnavism movement in Assam. The work includes a chapter on performing aspects of Sattriya dance. In this work he used the word ‘sattra circle’ to indicate different vogue of a dance number.

Nirupama Mahanta in her work Sattra Sanskritir Rup-chaya, Asar-riti aru Utsav- anusthan discussed in details about the four samhatis– where the author mentioned about the Bordowa sattra and its various traditions, celebrations etc. But it doesn’t contain any in-depth analysis of the dance, music and mnemonics of the Bardowa sattra.

1.8 The Sutradhari Nac of the Bardowa Sattra circle:

The Sutradhari has been a prime character of any Ankiya Naat[8]. In Assamese Ankiya Naat, the role of Sutradhara doesn’t remain confined to the performance of the preliminaries alone like the role of sutradhari in Sanskrit drama. The sutradhari in Assamese bhaona has to play a comprehensive role in the sense that the sutradhari has to sing, dance and to work as stage director (J. Mahanta 115). According to Jagannath Mahanta, at present, there have been four or more vogues of sutradhari nac practiced in different corners of the state. He is of the view that the variant of the Bardowa sattra circle is practiced in middle Assam and in the north bank of the river Brahmaputra.

1.9 The Performing Style:

The dance consists of both pure dance and abhinaya i.e. acting. After the Gayan-Bayan left, the Sutradhara enters the stage under the agnigarha[9] in the midst of cheers calling for the victory of God and the sound of big drum called doba and cymbals called Bhor tal. The sutradhara presents himself in the stage under the agnigarha in kneeling and bowing position behind a curtain pulled by two monks. In Bardowa, nandi sloka[10] is recited when sutradhara remains behind the curtain. After completion of recitation of nandi sloka, a song usually from the drama (Anka geet) is sung in suhai raag[11]which is generally known as suhai geet[12]. In the last part of this suhai geet, the curtain is pulled. As soon as the curtain is pulled, the sutradhara slowly comes to the basic position- ‘Ora’ and performs dance by the bajana i.e. patterned rhythmic syllables of khol set to tala (J. Mahanta 117). It is to be mentioned here that the sutradhar himself has to recite all these sloka, bhatima and gita (songs). While singing bhatima, the sutradhar puts extra emphasis on each fourth line and simultaneously the bayana plays gheta[13] in khol and the sutradhara performs a jump in a particular position.

1.10 The notations of the mnemonics of the sutradhari nac of the Bardowa sattra circle:

            The particular dance number was practiced and performed by guru late Bhuban Borah in various places of the Nagaon district of Assam without proper scientific notations. In some places of the middle Assam area, this dance number is still performed in Ankiya Bhawnas. However, in the absence of notations, the learners have been finding it difficult to present it as a single dance number before the audience. As a student of guru late Bhuban Borah, the investigator found the opportunity to learn this dance number. In the absence of the guru, some prominent bayanas like Hemaram Goswami, Hiranya Mahanta, and Debananda Dev Goswami – Sattradhikara of the Bardowa sattra along with Padmashree Jatin Goswami- a prominent figure in sattriya dance, were consulted while rendering notations. For Jatin Goswami, in Bardowa sattra the sutradhari dance is performed in Ek Tala– which consists of 6 Matra[14]s. The Sattradhikara of the Bardowa sattra and other bayanas also acknowledged this view and accordingly notations are rendered in 6 Matras. After rendering notations, the bayanas played khol according to the notations and a group of dancers headed by the investigator practiced and finally performed this dance number in Bardowa sattra on the occasion of the Holi celebration in the year 2021.

1.11 Conclusion:

Though many dance numbers of the Bardowa sattra circle have become obsolete, some manuscripts are still available that contain mnemonics of some dance numbers. Rendering notations of the mnemonics proves to be helpful to practice and therefore preserve the dance. If in-depth studies are made, some more dance numbers can be revived.

[1]  Vaishnavite monastery.

[2] Dance of the Sutradhara.

[3] A peculiar form of one act plays created by vaishnavite saints.

[4] The biographies of the Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva.

[5] Special arrangement made to provide light in the stage of Ankiya Nat.

[6] Head of a Sattra.

[7] Who plays Khol.

[8] One act plays of Vaishnavite tradition.

[9] Entrance of the stage.

[10] A particular type of hymn.

[11]A peculiar raga in Sattriya music.

[12] Songs sung in suhai raga are referred as suhai geet.

[13] A particular rhythm in khol.

[14] Small portion of a tala.